Monday, 29 October 2018

Southern Cross Tea Rooms, Newton Poppleford, Devon

I took these photos in July 2009, and didn't really intend to do anything specific with them at the time. A few years later I did some research for a project involving pebble buildings in East Devon and this building came to my attention as having a pebble wall. So, I checked out my photos to see if I had the said wall. I didn't find anything conclusive, but decided to scan them anyway and have a look to see if the building has any interesting history.

Interestingly, it's been a tea room for more than 50 years. Founded in the 1950s by the Irish actress Eileen McKenna, she had a trademark of the 'clotted cream mountain', which was a super-sized version of the traditional Devon Cream Tea comprising scones lathered in jam and clotted cream together with a pot of tea...and if you could eat one massive confection, you received another one free!  Apparently, some of the celebrities who dined there included Bruce Forsyth and Prince Edward. The challenge remained for four decades during her tenure.

A Grade II listed building, it was built in the early 18th century, modernised in C19 and extended during the 20th century. The building is plastered cob on stone rubble footings, topped with brick and a thatched roof.

Something I did discover, is that from the rear corners the high garden walls were made from local large river cobbles. Newton Poppleford is taken from the Saxon words for 'new town by a pebble stream'...popples being an old Devon name for pebbles.

I only visited here once, but it holds a special place in my heart. I was just coming out of an especially dark time in my life, and chilling out in the garden with coffee (I can't remember if I had a cream tea, but it would be nice to think that I did!) coincided with the start of much happier times.

The photo above shows a wall, which may be one of the pebble walls indicated...although it's difficult to ascertain, as there's not much of it visible, and it's been painted white. Below is a photo of the front. It was difficult to get a decent photo, as it's on the busy A3052 road to Exeter. Hopefully, I'll be visiting the village again in order to look for more pebble buildings, at which time I might get some more photos of the tea rooms too...and treat myself to a cream tea! :)

The Village Hall, Newton Poppleford, Devon

Tucked away between and behind the houses on Station Road is this delightful building, the Village Hall. I was unable to discover it's history or anything about it at the time, as it doesn't appear to be a Listed Building.  Fortunately, a gentleman from the Newton Poppleford History Group kindly sent me some information; the rest is some research and a little architectural detective work of my own.

The main body of the building was thought to have been constructed using bricks that came from the site of the old silk mill, which was demolished just before the turn of the 19th century, and the front of the building was added later and paid for by a wealthy local; the iron work came from the local blacksmith who was situated next door.

The frontage is in the Arts & Craft style of the Edwardian era, although if it was added much later it may be the Revived style of the 1930s. However, the features appear to fit the former style more accurately, with it's prominent front gables, mock timber, long row of mullion windows with diamond panes and protruding window frame. The door is wide and is recessed beneath a porch. The upper storey is jettisoned on brackets to emulate a Tudor building.

Looking at the side reveals the difference between the front and the rest of the building. It's interesting to see the contrast between the varying materials of the stone rubble steps, white painted pebble dash and bright red bricks.

As shown in the photos above and below; the rear section, with it's lovely red brick. Not only the fabric of the building, but the style itself is altogether different. Although the silk mill was situated elsewhere, the only remains being the field where it stood, it looks as if it may have been rebuilt in a similar fashion to the mill. The frontage may have been added later. I really like the rounded windows, especially the long one.

Although a story is beginning to reveal itself, it's still a bit of a conundrum, but that's what I love about buildings that have developed and changed over time.

May Terrace & Blackmore House, Sidmouth, Devon

Wandering around Sidmouth whilst waiting for films to be processed a few years ago, I chanced upon these delightful buildings. I haven't been able to ascertain any particular history attached to them, other than that they were built in 1904. Edwardian brick-built buildings with lovely Dutch gables...and the odd modern dormer...with wrought iron balcony railings at the front. However, I really love Dutch gables, so it wasn't one to be missed!

At the end of the terrace is another building, called Blackmore House. I really liked the quirky look of it when viewed from the south side. Interestingly, the buildings back onto Blackmore Gardens, the only part left of what used to be a large house and grounds. This little house may have replaced a lodge to the main big house...although it may have just been called Blackmore House because of its proximity to the gardens and have nothing to do with the house at all, being built much later.

However, it wasn't until walking around to the rear that I saw how quirky May Terrace is too, with the end of the building finishing in an unusually sharp point.

Below, the rear of the pointy building. It's so thin that it looks just like a rear wall but there are windows on the front elevation. I'd be really interested to see how it looks inside and what possible use it has room-wise.

 More photos from the rear, below. Some lovely slate hung tiles on the left portion.

Although the front elevation is joined, the buildings are separated with courtyards in between. 

And finally, two more views of the lovely Dutch gabled frontage. Interestingly, there are several Dutch gabled buildings in Topsham, at the furthest reach of East Devon. During Mediaeval times there was much trading between Exeter (Topsham being the ancient port of the city) and the Netherlands. Bricks were used as ballast in the Dutch ships, which were then off loaded in Exeter and used for buildings.

Not only did the Dutch influence some of the buildings, but some retiring captains from Holland settled in Topsham and built Dutch style houses for themselves. Although, a Netherlander acquaintance of mine did tell me that they aren't really authentically Dutch, therefore they're probably a hybrid between Mediaeval Holland and England.

May Cottage, Sidmouth, Devon

This lovely Grade II listed house, with its iconic Devon thatched roof, comprises two storeys and a projecting bay on the north east end. Stuccoed with a roughcast finish, the main front elevation contains four windows, two each side of the porched entrance, with a further window above the door. That central window plus the two on the right side are blind, presumable having been blocked up at some point. The projecting bay holds a slightly bowed sash window on the first floor.

Apart from the blue plaque information, I had difficulty discovering anything else about this lovely thatched house. However, the book "Life and Times in Sidmouth: A Guide to the Blue Plaques" by Julia Creeke has been very useful, and most of the following historical information has been derived from it. I'd also like to thank the member of staff at Sidmouth Museum who suggested the book.

At one time the home of John and Ann Potbury, (whose son began the well-known local furniture business Potbury & Sons, which is still trading today), it became the first Sidmouth cottage hospital. Benefacted by a Miss Annie Leigh Browne, who offered to pay the rent for the first three years, it opened in 1885. Miss Leigh Browne bought May Cottage after its use as a hospital, to let as a private residence. It later on became a guest house.

During its phase as a guesthouse, it was famous for a beautiful passion flower that covered the front of the building. Unfortunately, it died after two very cold winters during the early 1960s. However, there are now two lovely clematis climbing in it's place.

Although Devon thatched houses are fairly timeless, and difficult to pinpoint a specific era, this one does have a few clues. It can be seen in a print dated 1826, which fits with some Regency features such as the windows and cast iron porch. However, it is thought to have been built some time in the 17th century, and according to the house listing was rehandled in the 19th century, which accounts for the addition of the Regency features at that time.

Above, the lovely bow window the enclosed cast iron porch with peaked canopy and fleur de lis finial to the wall.

May Cottage now houses the Sidmouth International School, teaching English to foreign students, which is a lovely use for such an historic and iconic Devon building.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

St Michael's Church, Musbury, Devon

The village of Musbury takes it's title from the Old English name of the ancient hill fort rising above it, the name loosely, and amusingly, meaning 'ancient place overrun by mice'...a descriptive way of saying that it's deserted! The church of St Michael sits high above the village, half way on the hill beneath the fort. The oldest part of the present-day church is the tower, which dates from 1420, but it is thought that an earlier structure would have existed on the same site; possibly a far simpler building without aisles, situated where the nave is now.

Like many buildings in the area, St Michael's is built of local flint rubble and freestone blocks; Beer stone having been used for the dressings to the openings, quoins, parapet coping and internal arches. Ham stone was also used, particularly in the tower parapet, and the roof is made of slate.

Quarry tiles were laid in the sanctuary and aisles when the church was rebuilt during the 19th century, and the old stone slabs let into their former places.

The most prominent feature of the church is the Drake family memorial, which was built in 1611 and further extended circa 1646. The family lived at nearby Ash, now known as Ashe House. The figures represent, from left to right, Sir John Drake and his wife, Amy Grenville, his son Sir Barnard Drake and his wife Garthrud Fortesque, and Sir John Drake (Sir Bernard's son) with his wife, Dorothye Button. The east window next to the memorial was dedicated to the memory of Robert Hamlyn Mervyn Drake in 1970. 

An interesting bit of information from Wikipedia about the supposed connection between Sir Francis Drake and the Drakes of Ash...

"The Drake family of Ash rejected a claim by Admiral Sir Francis Drake (c.1540–1596) of Buckland Abbey, whom they considered to be below the rank of gentry, that he was descended from their ancient Drake family of Ash, and a famous physical confrontation broke out in the court of Queen Elizabeth I between Admiral Sir Bernard Drake (c.1537–1586) of Ash and Admiral Sir Francis Drake of Buckland Abbey when the latter made claim to the armorials of Drake of Ash."

The addition of the south aisle, at the end of the 15th century, increased the width of the nave. This meant that the tower is no longer on the original east-west axis of the church. The west door was subsequently realigned to match the nave inside, as can be seen in the photo below. This answers a question of mine, as I have often noticed this anomaly on other churches I have visited and wondered why that was. 

The beautiful Venetian mosaic reredos of passion flowers set in marble, in the photo below, was one of many gifts bestowed upon the church by the Drake family. This one was presented by Sir William Drake in 1874.

I hope I don't offend anyone but I have to say that, despite the many lovely features and interesting history of the church, I felt it to be very cold in atmosphere and unwelcoming, even hostile. This is somewhat unusual for me as I find most churches, even the darkest of them, quite peaceful places. However, being rather sensitive to buildings, it does make me wonder why.

Oddly enough, I was showing some visiting friends around Seaton Parish church and they commented on how warm and welcoming it was. I told them about this church and how uncomfortable I'd felt, and the wife of the couple immediately picked up on it as possibly having been incumbert by stern, paternalistic clergy in the past. It would be interesting to find out if there's any truth to that, but there are no 'feminine touches' here, such as flowers or candles, so maybe the atmosphere has affected peoples attitude towards it.

The exterior, however, is delightful, and there are some lovely features both inside and out. Just outside the porch is a step in which fossils have been embedded; in homage to the Jurassic Coast perhaps?

And there are some lovely old gravestones in the churchyard.

Visited in March 2008, I continued up the hill afterwards to Musbury Castle Hill Fort, as seen in the previous post...where I chickened out and didn't quite manage to reach the top. A lovely morning out, though.